Hackett Previews Saturday's Game

Nov. 21, 2000

USC Head Coach Paul Hackett

Recap of UCLA Game
'Well, it has been a great 42, 72 hours, whatever it's been, since the game, and for those of you that have been listening to me all year long, you know that I continue to marvel at the way this football team has been able to respond in tough circumstances. We all know how devastating the loss to Washington State was, but once again, in true Trojan fashion, we bounced back and really played well in the game against UCLA. There's nothing quite as satisfying as beating your cross-town rival two years in a row. It's a real satisfaction, particularly for our seniors, to know that they can go out having beaten them the last two years. It's wonderful. But we couldn't make it easy... we had to spot them seven points to start. The other story is Carson Palmer who probably played his best football game, the secondary played their best football game, and David Bell is a story in itself with his ability to come back from a near fatal miss, get another opportunity and be able to kick it through in that kind of pressure situation. I marvel at the fact that, that was a freshman snapper, the holder had three games and David Bell had never made a field goal. It's been quite a rollercoster and that game has been very satisfying and very rewarding.

'We know we have another opportunity like that. This one is very special to all Trojans, as it is across the country and in all of college football. It's one of the true great rivalries in college football. This year's Notre Dame team is quite different than the team we played last year and the team we played before that. The quality of the athletes, particularly the speed of the athletes, is a step up from the last couple of years. Of course, our heart-breaking one point loss last year was really something. There's a nice blend of seniors on their team, along with some young players who are really playing well. There's more depth. One of the big keys on their team is special teams. They had a disappointing year last year and then they went out and really found a way to improve on special teams that have put them in the position to win some games. Joey Getherall Is a superb punt returner and they're like 3rd in the nation in kickoff returns. That's very dangerous for us. Their coverage teams are good because their speed and athletic ability looks to be far different than the last couple of years. Defensively, there's more pressure coming at you with bump-n-run coverage. They're excellent tacklers. Offensively... to lose your quarterback and be able to play the way they have with a true freshman has been tremendous. They are a strong running football team... this team averages over 210 yards. We're going to be tested there because of their pure, old fashion way of running the ball. The quarterback really has made a number of plays, he's a lot more athletic than you think and he has run the ball well. The two tailbacks are the key guys... (Julius Jones) and (Tony Fisher) have an even number of carries, they're power runners who have the ability to go all the way with their speed. It all starts with the offensive line and this offensive line is typical for Notre Dame... powerful and physical.

'They're the tenth team in the country and they're very deserving of that ranking. It's a huge test for us. The ability to put two games of this magnitude back-to-back will be our test. I think we'll have a lot of momentum, a lot of good feelings, a lot of enthusiasm and I expect us to play very well.'

Which is the bigger game... UCLA or Notre Dame?
'I'm going to ride the fence on this one. I think that the difference in the two games is that one of them is in your backyard. From a recruiting standpoint, you must beat UCLA. Most of the athletes that we recruit are also considering UCLA and that makes it very important. Notre Dame from a history standpoint and national standpoint, is certainly the larger and more attractive game. It doesn't mean we don't recruit against Notre Dame, because we do, but it's not like it's in your own backyard. I think the history of both games is dramatic and it's hard to pick one or the other. Both are huge rivalries and no matter what kind of year you have, you have to beat Notre Dame and you have to beat UCLA. I think that's always been the way it's been here at USC.'

Is Notre Dame almost bigger than a bowl game?
'When you play a 12th game, and the 12th game happens to be Notre Dame, and it's at home and they're ranked 10th in the country, you have all the drama and all the excitement right here. This is a monster game. In a lot of ways it is a bigger game than most of the bowls. Now for us, it's bigger than all of the bowls because we aren't going to any bowls. It's not only the national stage, but it's right here, so perhaps for us it's as big as any other game than perhaps maybe the Rose Bowl. The Rose Bowl, when you're playing in it, is certainly the biggest. But this is center stage for the entire country.'

Will you give the players some type of history lesson again?
'Well, I have a feeling they'll see some Anthony Davis this week.'

How have you coped with all the lingering rumors about job security?
'The football team has responded by eliminating all the distractions and focusing on the job at hand and that's what's important right now. To get through last week with all the rumors and the loss to Washington State, made it extremely difficult for this team. But they responded well and played well. The issue right now is that we have the chance to win these two games back-to-back for the first time in a long time. We'll take sometime off at Thanksgiving and prepare ourselves for the game. This team will not let the opinion of people on the outside, affect what thy do the day of the game. We got through it against UCLA and we'll focus well again this week.

'I'm part of this team and I kind of put myself in the middle of it. The focus is about beating Notre Dame. What I'm thinking about is how we put our best effort on the field on Saturday. If I don't, then I'm taking away from this team and they've worked far too hard for me to get distracted.'

How do you get the team to focus after UCLA?
'This is obviously a concern. It is a not a position that we've been in much this year, other than after the Penn State game, where we've come from winning a game of this magnitude then won and played well. We have to talk about that and discuss the importance of not letting the low times bother us, as well as the high times. It was certainly a low time a week ago after Washington State, so in this high time you also have to figure out how to put it behind you.'

Are you looking to spoil Notre Dame's season or just win the game?
'I think that that's probably more of an issue for the media. It was very emotional to spoil UCLA's year, but against Notre Dame it's more about USC. They haven't won here in a number of years so we have something going that we have to hang onto. Last year was very painful for us. We played as well as we played all year last year and we were denied by one point. This is about this game and about us, it's not as much about Notre Dame.'

Markus Steele's health
'He's going to go light today, but I expect him to be ready for the ballgame.'

Relationship with Bob Davie
'I've known him for a long time in term of colleagues who have worked against him and played against him. He had a rough year last year and I think he's done a marvelous job bouncing back from it. My goodness, there may have been some rumors swirling around him last year?!? I think they have improved their football team and that's obviously a tribute to (Bob Davie). They're a better looking football team than they have been in the last couple of years.'

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